Beware of Holy Substitutes
By Jill Briscoe
At most places I speak, I am asked to address leaders and followers alike about the present urgent need of personal reality that sustains and empowers us to live well in sometimes impossible situations.
On Christian campuses (one of the hardest places to live in the present reality of the living God) I will say something like: “This wonderful Christian school is one of the hardest places to stay in vital touch with the Lord. We have so many holy substitutes. It’s so easy to be friends with Jesus’ friends rather than friends with Jesus!” I see acknowledgement in the eyes of the students or in their body language as they quit being bored and sit up a little bit straighter!
We all do it, of course – teacher and student alike. We substitute aids to spiritual reality for the reality itself. Here in the West we are drowning in holy substitutes. There are devotionals, computer courses, CDs, DVDs, and radio messages meant to be aids to a deeper relationship with God, and yet, there is a danger that they are taking the very place of that relationship! Being an author myself, I hate to think I am contributing to this problem! Does what I write leave readers knowing how to connect with the Lord themselves? Does what we record for radio lead people to dare to wrestle with concepts and be alone with God to a deeper and greater degree than ever before?
“How should I pray?” one will ask. “I’ve forgotten, settling for a few words from a devotional or a fix from my favorite radio preacher.” Others have said to me: “I can’t wait to meet with my Christian mentor in the morning.” Not, “I can’t wait to meet with Christ!” Often, I have had people ask me, “Would you mentor me, Jill?” I usually answer, “No, Jesus will mentor you, but I will meet with you a few times to show you how to let Him do that. And once in a while, we can meet to share the lessons He is teaching us both.” We must not become holy substitutes for the Holy Spirit! Or people will lean on us instead of on Him!
I am aware that I may well be working myself out of a job. In fact, I present messages about how to go deeper with God, how to read the Bible, and how to hear His voice. Please, God, let my efforts to encourage people to connect with the dynamic of the Spirit never become a holy substitute for the real thing.
We must first personally substitute all our own great resources for the real deal. I need to do the work I need to do in order that He can do the work He needs to do within me. I want to help people toward a moment-by-moment conscious awareness of His hand on our shoulder, His love in our life, His breath in our spirit, and His grace in our soul. “God and God alone,” as the song says it. I must make sure that all our God-inspired resources lead people to take the responsibility to nourish their own interior life.
So, walk into the throne room early in the morning, all by yourself, and just talk! Learn to listen, too…to discern the still small voice of God above the cacophony of noise around you. Don’t just watch other do it – you do it!